Gua Sha is an ancient massage technique which originated from China and by some accounts is over 2,000 years old. It has been adapted by other countries throughout the East and is acommon therapy in both conventional and traditional Chinese medicine today.
However, it is seldom used in the West as little is known about it, and it differs greatly from western standards.
Gua Sha literally means to “scrape away fever”. In Vietnam it is known as “Cow Yaw”, in Laos as “Khoud Lam”, in Cambodia as “Kos Khyol”, in Indonesia as “Kerik”, and in Japan,”Kerokan”.
It is described in some of the oldest known Chinese medical texts, including the Shang Han Lun from the early third century.
It is so prevalent throughout Asia today, that many villages have their own Gua Sha therapist, and family members even practice on each other.
It has been passed on from generation to generation, and can now even be found in North American and European spas and Oriental medical centers.
Anciently, tools such as animal horns or bones were used to scrape the skin. Now, special gua sha tools are available.
The Gua Sha tool is used to scrape the skin of the affected areas, starting towards the spine and working its way out towards the limbs. The motions typically follow the meridians, or energy channels in the body. Lotion or massage oil is generally used to protect the skin.
The scraping causes petechial or minor hemorrhaging just beneath the surface of the skin. This is a normal response to releasing blood stagnation. In severe cases, ecchymosis, or slight bruising and redness may last for two to three days following treatment.
Acupuncturist Arya Nielsen, who popularized Gua Sha in America, explains that throughout the body is fascia, or connective tissue connecting all the structures of the body. She states, “when blood is stuck in the surface fascia, fabric and function are compromised. There is pain, and a slowing of normal processes, not only there at the surface, but also deeper in the organs… Gua Sha moves this stuck blood, immediately relieves pain and restores the normal processes of circulation”.
Although a casual observer may assume at first glance that Gua Sha is painful or causing damage to the skin, those who have undergone the treatment attest to its amazing benefits. Following a session, most report immediate relief of pain, tenderness and stiffness.
Why Gua Sha?
Gua Sha is different from other forms of massage, which focus mainly on relieving tension in the muscles. The purpose of Gua Sha is to stimulate circulation and move “stagnant” blood. Relaxation of the muscles is a natural response to this movement.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, blood stagnation can cause a wide range of health-related issues, including pain, stiffness and inflammation. Allergies, infertility, arthritis and tendinitis are all examples of disorders which are related to stagnant blood.
There are a few tests which can help you decide if Gua Sha is right for you:
- If you have acute or chronic pain,
- If you have severe tenderness or knots in the muscles,
- If pressing on the skin of the affected area causes blanching (where the skin turns white and slowly fades back to a normal color).
In TCM, Gua Sha may be prescribed for any number of disorders, including:
- high blood pressure
- menstrual pain
- severe or chronic back pain
- stretch marks and varicose veins
Remember that natural therapies such as Gua Sha are meant to complement, not replace medical care. Consult your health care provider if considering Gua Sha for chronic or acute pain.